By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) – Representatives for the Philippines government and the political wing of the country's communist party gathered Monday for formal peace talks hosted in the Norwegian capital Oslo.
A statement released by the Philippines’ Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said the negotiations sought to forge a political settlement “anchored on sweeping social, economic, and political reforms that were deemed crucial in ending Asia's longest running insurgency”.
It quoted Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process, as saying the delegations were gathered in a foreign land “to reignite the lost sparks that were there before as both parties search for political settlement and peace”.
He expressed optimism about the new round of talks succeeding due to initiatives taken by President Rodrigo Duterte, who has made overtures toward the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) since winning the May 9 election.
"We are all witness how he had taken bold steps, the unprecedented and historic release of our detainess, to make them available to the negotiations," Dureza said.
Earlier Monday, Norway offered its full support for the talks, during which officials representing Manila and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) aim to discuss ways to end the 47-year conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people.
"Both sides have expressed a strong desire to reach a final solution to this long-lasting conflict, and have gone far in order for this round of negotiations to take place," Norway’s foreign minister, Borge Brende, said in a statement.
"It is therefore very positive that the formal negotiations can now be resumed. At the same time the issues to be discussed are broad and complex, and it is important not to have too high expectations for how quickly the parties can agree to a final peace solution."
Norway hosted informal talks in June between representatives for the incoming government and the NDFP, when the parties agreed to resume formal peace negotiations.
The talks follow the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the CPP on Friday, after some members were released from prison to participate in the resumption of the talks.
The ceasefire is due to last for the culmination of the talks, Aug. 22-26.
During the discussions, the Maoist movement seeks to address a proposal for Duterte to grant a general amnesty for the release of all political prisoners.
More than 500 members of the communist group, which has been waging a decades-old insurgency, are currently in detention.
Previous negotiations with the CPP and its political arm collapsed in 2004 after the communists withdrew from the negotiating table on account of the renewed inclusion of CPP founder Jose Maria Sison and the movement's armed wing, the New People's Army, on the United States terrorist list.
In 2014, negotiations again failed because previous President Benigno Aquino III turned down the rebels' demand to release detained comrades -- accusing the rebels of insincerity in efforts to achieve a political settlement.
In his peace overtures, Duterte has said that he will release all political prisoners if party leaders return from exile and sit down for negotiations.
He has also offered the CPP posts in his new government to smooth the way.
The insurgency, waged since March 1969, has claimed more than 3,000 lives over the past eight years, according to the military.
The military estimates that the number of NPA members has dropped from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s to less than 4,000.
*Anadolu Agency correspondent Satuk Bugra Kutlugun contributed to this story from Ankara